Topics in Synoptic Meteorology


Topics in Synoptic Meteorology (3 credits)

Fall Semester, 2018  

Time/Place: MWF, 11:15 AM – 12:05 PM, 110 Walker


Prof. Paul Markowski, 520 Walker, email:, phone (work): 865-9736, web: to an external site.

Office Hours: By appointment

Course Description and Objectives

The goal of this course is to help students gain an understanding of how the large-scale atmosphere works, and basic relationships among geopotential, geopotential tendency, and vertical motion—in other words, develop intuition about what drives the weather.  The course blends dynamics with practical applications.  Graduates of the class will be able to explain the weather in terms of rigorous dynamical principles.  The course also will teach pupils much about the early history of our field (e.g., the pioneering contributions of Bjerknes, Petterssen, Sutcliffe, Charney, Sawyer, and Eliassen).  

Topics to be Covered (may change based on class interests and time)

Sutcliffe's development equation; quasigeostrophic (QG) theory, including the role of diabatic heating and static stability; alternative formulations of the QG omega and height-tendency equations (Trenberth formulation, Q vectors, P vectors, C vectors); surface and middle-upper tropospheric fronts; frontogenesis, including the vector form of the frontogenesis function, the geostrophic momentum approximation, semigeostrophic equations, and Sawyer–Eliassen equation.

Textbooks You Might Enjoy (not required)

Midlatitude Synoptic Meteorology by G. Lackmann 
Mid-Latitude Atmospheric Dynamics by J.E. Martin 
Mid-Latitude Weather Systems by T.N. Carlson 
Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology and Weather Analysis and Forecasting, edited by L. Bosart and H. Bluestein 
Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology in Midlatitudes, Volume I, Principles of Kinematics and Dynamics by H. Bluestein 
Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology in Midlatitudes, Volume II, Observations and Theory of Weather Systems by H. Bluestein. 
The Life Cycles of Extratropical Cyclones edited by M. Shapiro and S. Gronas (available from the AMS)

Grading Policy

  • homework 60%
  • your leading of, and participation in, journal article discussions contributes 20%
  • your leading of, and participation in, daily weather discussions contributes 20%    

Academic Integrity

Class members may collaborate on homework assignments, but the final product to be handed in must be your own work.  Students may not plagiarize text from papers or websites written by others.  Students who present other people's work as their own will receive at least a 0 on the assignment, and may well receive an F or XF in the course. Please see the Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Policy ( to an external site.), which this course adopts.  To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students." 

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Assistance with Textbooks

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, contact the Office of Student Care and Advocacy (120 Boucke Building, 863-4926, to an external site.). For additional need related to socioeconomic status please visit to an external site..

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus at to an external site.. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website ( to an external site.).

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation: to an external site.. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.


This course abides by the Penn State Attendance Policy E-11 ( to an external site.) and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35 ( to an external site.). Please also see Illness Verification Policy ( to an external site.) and Religious Observance Policy ( to an external site.). Students who miss class for legitimate reasons will be given a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work, including exams and quizzes.  Students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel in the case of illness or injury and should use their best judgment on whether they are well enough to attend class or not; the University Health Center will not provide medical verification for minor illnesses or injuries. Other legitimate reasons for missing class include religious observance, military service, family emergencies, regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activities, and post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to re-schedule these opportunities (such as employment and graduate school final interviews).  Students who encounter serious family, health, or personal situations that result in extended absences should contact the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs (AVPSA) and Student Care and Advocacy for help ( to an external site.).  Whenever possible, students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form available from the Registrar's Office ( to an external site.) at least one week prior to the activity.

Weather Delays

Campus emergencies, including weather delays, are announced on Penn State NewsLinks to an external site. and communicated to cell phones, email, the Penn State Facebook page, and Twitter via PSUAlert (Sign up at to an external site.). 

Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated ( to an external site.) and can be reported through Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpageLinks to an external site.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation. Services include the following: 

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park (CAPS)Links to an external site.: 814-863-0395
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741 

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail (see to an external site.) to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to your instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. It is up to your instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If, for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.


The term "Netiquette" refers to the etiquette guidelines for electronic communications, such as e-mail and bulletin board postings. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions, but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of forum messages. Please review some general Netiquette guidelinesLinks to an external site. that should be followed when communicating in this course.

Disruptive Behavior

Behavior that disrupts normal classroom activities will not be tolerated, in accordance with Items 9 and 14 in the Student Code of ConductLinks to an external site.


In the case of an emergency, we will follow the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Critical Incident Plan ( to an external site.). In the event of an evacuation, we will follow posted evacuation routes and gather at the Designated Meeting Site. Evacuation routes for all EMS buildings are available at to an external site.. For more information regarding actions to take during particular emergencies, please see the Penn State Emergency Action GuidesLinks to an external site..

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework.  For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct and Prevention & ResponseLinks to an external site. website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services LawLinks to an external site.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see: